Direct Labour is not the magic answer
16 August, 2018
• I TAKE issue with Councillor Meric Apak on his proposal for direct labour for building works in Camden, (Housing chief says council could ‘save a packet’ by taking back services from private contractors, July 20), and another contributor, (Katharine Bligh, It’s time for the council to take back control, August 9).
I’m an architect with 35 years’ experience of procuring large-scale building works in the UK’s public and private sectors; including refurbishments of large blocks of council housing. I have no political agenda.
The central issue for delivery of superior quality building works is not who employs the workforce. Successful delivery is a direct function of the rigour of the employer’s in-house management team.
Typically, for a council, on successful projects, the “in-house team” consists of senior council officers supported by (internal or external) professionals and project managers.
There are false ideas in the New Journal’s pages on this topic. One is that it’s normal for a private contractor to be put in charge of works “with no accountability”.
Another is that employers have no control over sub-contracting or sub-sub-contracting. And another is that private contractors are free to do what they like, concerning quality and payment.
None of this is correct, unless the local authority is incompetent. If projects are rigorously set up, and properly designed, documented, tendered, contracted and supervised, then contractors are subject to controls.
Experienced managers and professionals know this. They also know that if a building contract is ill-defined, chaos reigns, whoever does the work.
Direct labour will require more in-house management, not less. The empirical evidence highlights a shortage of superior quality in-house management in Camden.
There are some notable exceptions, but overall, that’s the reason Camden fails to deliver. That’s where Councillor Apak should direct his attention.
RICHARD FERRARO, FRIBA